Portion of Tractate XII.
John III. 6-15.
1. We observe, beloved, that the intimation with which we yesterday
excited your attention has brought you together with more alacrity, and
in greater number than usual; but meanwhile let us, if you please, pay
our debt of a discourse on the Gospel Lesson, which comes in due course.
You shall then hear, beloved, as well what we have already effected concerning
the peace of the Church, and what we hope yet further to accomplish. For
the present, then, let the whole attention of your hearts be given to the
gospel; let none be thinking of anything else. For if he who attends to
it wholly apprehends with difficulty, must not he who divides himself by
diverse thoughts let go what he has received? Moreover, you remember, beloved,
that on the last Lord's day, as the Lord deigned to help us, we discoursed
of spiritual regeneration. That lesson we have caused to be read to you
again, so that what was then left unspoken, we may now, by the aid of your
prayers in the name of Christ, fulfill.
2. Spiritual regeneration is one, just as the generation of the flesh
is one. And Nicodemus said the truth when he said to the Lord that a man
cannot, when he is old, return again into his mother's womb and be born.
He indeed said that a man cannot do this when he is old, as if he could
do it even were he an infant. But be he fresh from the womb, or now in
years, he cannot possibly return again into the mother's bowels and be
born. But just as for the birth of the flesh, the bowels of woman avail
to bring forth the child only once, so for the spiritual birth the bowels
of the Church avail that a man be baptized only once. Therefore, in case
one should say, "Well, but this man was born in heresy, and this in schism:"
all that was cut away, if you remember what was debated to you about our
three fathers, of whom God willed to be called the God, not that they were
thus alone but because in them alone the figure of the future people was
made upin its completeness. For we find one born of a bond woman disinherited,
one born of a free woman made heir: again, we find one born of a free woman
disinherited, one born of a bond woman made heir. Ishmael, born of a bond
woman, disinherited; Isaac, born of a free woman, made heir: Esau, born
of a free woman, disinherited; the sons of Jacob, born of bond women, made
heirs. Thus, in these three fathers the figure of the whole future people
is seen: and not without reason God saith, "I am the God of Abraham, and
the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob: this," saith He, "is my name for
ever." Rather let us remember what was promised to Abraham himself: for
this was promised to Isaac, and also to Jacob. What do we find? "In thy
seed shall all nations be blessed." At that time the one man believed what
as yet he saw not: men now see, and are blinded. What was promised to the
one man is fulfilled in the nations; and they who will not see what is
already fulfilled, are separating themselves from the communion of the
nations. But what avails it them that they will not see? See they do, whether
they will or no; the open truth strikes against their closed eyes.
3. It was in answer to Nicodemus, who was of them that had believed
on Jesus, that it was said, And Jesus did not trust Himself to them. To
certain men, indeed, He did not trust Himself, though they had already
believed on Him. Thus it is written, "Many believed in His name, seeing
the signs which He did. But Jesus did not trust Himself to them. For He
needed not that any should testify of man; for Himself knew what was in
man." Behold, they already believed on Jesus, and yet Jesus did not trust
Himself to them. Why, because they were not yet born again of water and
of the Spirit. From this have we exhorted and do exhort our brethren the
catechumens. For if you ask them, they have already believed in Jesus;
but because they have not yet received His flesh and blood, Jesus has not
yet trusted Himself to them. What must they do that Jesus may trust Himself
to them? They must be born again of water and of the Spirit; the Church
that is in travail with them must bring them forth. They have been conceived;
they must be brought forth to the light: they have breasts to be nourished
at; let them not fear lest, being born, they may be smothered; let them
not depart from the mother's breasts.
4. No man can return into his mother's bowels and be born again. But
some one is born of a bond woman? Well, did they who were born of bond
women at the former time, return into the wombs of the free to be born
anew? The seed of Abraham was in Ishmael also; but that Abraham might have
a son of the bond maid, it was at the advice of his wife. The child was
of the husband's seed, not of the womb, but at the sole pleasure of the
wife. Was his birth of a bond woman the reason why he was disinherited?
Then, if he was disinherited because he was the son of a bond woman, no
sons of bond women would be admitted to the inheritance. The sons of Jacob
were admitted to the inheritance; but Ishmael was put out of it, not because
born of a bond woman, but because he was proud to his mother, proud to
his mother's son; for his mother was Sarah rather than Hagar. The one gave
her womb, the other's will was added: Abraham would not have done what
Sarah willed not: therefore was he Sarah's son rather. But because he was
proud to his brother, proud in playing, that is, in mocking him; what said
Sarah? "Cast out the bond woman and her son; for the son of the bond woman
shall not be heir with my son Isaac." It was not, therefore, the bowels
of the bond woman that caused his rejection, but the slave's neck. For
the free-born is a slave if he is proud, and, what is worse, the slave
of a bad mistress, of pride itself. Thus, my brethren, answer the man,
that a man cannot be born a second time; answer fearlessly, that a man
cannot be born a second time. Whatever is done a second time is mockery,
whatever is done a second time is play. It is Ishmael playing, let him
be cast out. For Sarah observed them playing, saith the Scripture, and
said to Abraham, "Cast out the bond woman and her son." The playing of
the boys displeased Sarah. She saw something strange in their play. Do
not they who have sons like to see them playing? She saw and disapproved
it. Something or other she saw in their play; she saw mockery in it, observed
the pride of the slave; she was displeased with it, and she cast him out.
The children of bond women, when wicked, are cast out; and the child of
the free woman, when an Esau, is cast out. Let none, therefore, presume
on his birth of good parents; let none presume on his being baptized by
holy men. Let him that is baptized by holy men still beware lest he be
not a Jacob, but an Esau. This would I say then, brethren, it is better
to be baptized by men that seek their own and love the world, which is
what the name of bond woman imports, and to be spiritually seeking the
inheritance of Christ, so as to be as it were a son of Jacob by a bond
woman, than to be baptized by holy men and to become proud, so as to be
an Esau to be cast out, though born of a free woman. Hold ye this fast,
brethren. We are not coaxing you, let none of your hope be in us; we flatter
neither ourselves nor you; every man bears his own burden. It is our duty
to speak, that we be not judged unhappily: yours to hear, and that with
the heart, lest what we give be required of you; nay, that when it is required,
it may be found a gain, not a loss.
5. The Lord says to Nicodemus, and explains to him: "Verily, verily,
I say unto thee, Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit,
he cannot enter into the kingdom of God." Thou, says He, understandest
a carnal generation, when thou sayest, Can a man return into his mother's
bowels? The birth for the kingdom of God must be of water and of the Spirit.
If one is born to the temporal inheritance of a human father, be he born
of the bowels of a carnal mother; if one is born to the everlasting inheritance
of God as his Father, be he born of the bowels of the Church. A father,
as one that will die, begets a son by his wife to succeed him; but God
begets of the Church sons, not to succeed Him, but to abide with Himself.
And He goes on: "That which is horn of the flesh is flesh; and that which
is born of the Spirit is spirit." We are born spiritually then, and spirit
we are born by the word and sacrament. The Spirit is present that we may
be born; the Spirit is invisibly present whereof thou art born, for thou
too must be invisibly born. For He goes on to say: "Marvel not that I said
unto thee, Ye must be born again. The Spirit bloweth where it listeth,
and thou hearest its voice, but knowest not whence it cometh, or whither
it goeth." None sees the Spirit; and how do we hear the Spirit's voice?
There sounds a psalm, it is the Spirit's voice; the gospel sounds, it is
the Spirit's voice; the divine word sounds, it is the Spirit's voice. "Thou
hearest its voice, and knowest not whence it cometh, and whither it goeth."
But if thou art born of the Spirit, thou too shall be so, that one who
is not born of the Spirit knows not, as for thee, whence thou comest, or
whither thou goest. For He said, as He went on, "So is also every one that
is born of the Spirit."
6. "Nicodemus answered and said unto Him, How can these things be?"
And, in fact, in the carnal sense, he knew not how. In him occurred what
the Lord had said; the Spirit's voice he heard, but knew not whence it
came, and whither it was going. "Jesus answered and said unto him, Art
thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?" Oh, brethren! What
do we think that the Lord meant to taunt scornfully this master of the
Jews? The Lord knew what He was doing; He wished the man to be born of
the Spirit. No man is born of the Spirit if he be not humble, for humility
itself makes us to be born of the Spirit; "for the Lord is nigh to them
that are of broken heart." The man was puffed up with his mastership, and
it appeared of some importance to himself that he was a teacher of the
Jews. Jesus pulled down his pride, that he might be born of the Spirit:
He taunted him as an unlearned man; not that the Lord wished to appear
his superior. What comparison can there be, God compared to man, truth
to falsehood? Christ greater than Nicodemus! Ought this to be said, can
it be said, is it to be thought? If it were said, "Christ is greater than
angels," it were ridiculous: for incomparably greater than every creature
is He by whom every creature was made. But yet He rallies the man on his
pride: "Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?" As
if He said, Behold, thou knowest nothing, thou art a proud chief; be thou
born of the Spirit: for if thou be born of the Spirit, thou wilt keep the
ways of God, so as to follow Christ's humility. So, indeed, is He high
above all angels, that, "being in the forth of God, He thought it not robbery
to be equal with God, but emptied Himself, taking upon Him the form of
a servant, being made into the likeness of men, and found in fashion as
a man: He humbled Himself, being made: obedient unto death" (and lest any
kind of death should please thee), "even the death of the cross." He hung
on the cross, and they scoffed at Him. He could have come down from the
cross; but He deferred, that He might rise again from the tomb. He, the
Lord, bore with proud slaves; the physician with the sick. If He did this,
how ought they to act whom it behoves to be born of the Spirit!-if He did
this, He who is the true Master in heaven, not of men only, but also of
angels. For if the angels are learned, they are so by the Word of God.
If they are learned by the Word of God, ask of what they are learned; and
you shall find, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God." The neck of man is done away with, only the hard
and stiff neck, that it may be gentle to bear the yoke of Christ, of which
it is said, "My yoke is easy, and my burden is light."
7. And He goes on, "If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe
not; how shall ye believe, if I tell you heavenly things?" What earthly
things did He tell, brethren? "Except a man be born again;" is that an
earthly thing? "The Spirit bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest its
voice, and knowest not whence it cometh, or whither it goeth;" is that
earthly? For if He spoke it of the wind, as some have understood it, when
they were asked what earthly thing the Lord meant, when He said, "If I
told you earthly things, and ye believe not; how shall ye believe, if I
tell you heavenly things?"-when, I say, it was asked of certain men what
"earthly thing" the Lord meant, being in difficulty, they said, What He
said, "The Spirit bloweth where it listeth," and "its voice thou hearest,
and knowest not whence it cometh, or whither it goeth," He said concerning
the wind. Now what did He name earthly? He was speaking of the spiritual
birth; and going on, saith, "So is every one that is born of the Spirit."
Then, brethren, which of us does not see, for example, the south wind going
from south to north, or another wind coming from east to west? How, then,
know we not whence it cometh and whither it goeth? What earthly thing,
then, did He tell, which men did not believe? Was it that which He had
said about raising the temple again? Surely, for He had received His body
of the earth, and that earth taken of the earthly body He was preparing
to raise up. They did not believe Him as about to raise up earth. "If I
told you earthly things," saith He, "and ye believe not; how shall ye believe
if I tell you heavenly things?" That is, if ye believe not that I can raise
up the temple cast down by you, how shall ye believe that men can be regenerated
by the Spirit?
8. And He goes on: "And no man hath ascended into heaven, but He that
came down from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven." Behold, He was
here, and was also in heaven; was here in His flesh, in heaven by His divinity;
yea, everywhere by His divinity. Born of a mother, not quitting the Father.
Two nativities of Christ are understood: one divine, the other human: one,
that by which we were to be made; the other, that by which we were to be
made anew: both marvellous; that without mother, this without father. But
because He had taken a body of Adam,-for Mary was of Adam,-and was about
to raise that same body again, it was an earthly thing He had said in saying,
"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." But this was
a heavenly thing, when He said, "Except a man be born again of water and
of the Spirit, he shall not see the kingdom of God." Come then, brethren!
God has willed to be the Son of man; and willed men to be sons of God.
He came down for our sakes; let us ascend for His sake. For He alone descended
and ascended, He who saith, "No man hath ascended into heaven, but He who
came down from heaven." Are they not therefore to ascend into heaven whom
He makes sons of God? Certainly they are: this is the promise to us, "They
shall be equal to the angels of God." Then how is it that no man ascends,
but He that descended? Because one only descended, only one ascends. What
of the rest? What are we to understand, but that they shall be His members,
that one may ascend? Therefore it follows that "no man hath ascended into
heaven, but He who came down from heaven, the Son of man who is in heaven."
Dost thou marvel that He was both here and in heaven? Such He made His
disciples. Hear the Apostle Paul saying, "But our conversation is in heaven."
If the Apostle Paul, a man, walked in the flesh on earth, and yet had his
conversation in heaven, was the God of heaven and earth not able to be
both in heaven and on earth?
9. Therefore, if none but He descended and ascended, what hope is there
for the rest? The hope for the rest is this, that He came down in order
that in Him and with Him they might be one, who should ascend through Him.
"He saith not, And to seeds," saith the apostle, "as in many; but as in
one, And to thy seed, which is Christ." And to believers he saith, "And
ye are Christ's; and if Christ's, then are Abraham's seed." What he said
to be one, that he said that we all are. Hence, in the Psalms, many sometimes
sing, to show that one is made of many; sometimes one sings, to show what
is made of many. Therefore was it only one that was healed in the pool;
and whoever else went down into it was not healed. Now this one shows forth
the oneness of the Church. Woe to them who hate unity, and make to themselves
parties among men! Let them hear him who wished to make them one, in one,
for one: let them hear him who says, Be not ye making many: "I have planted,
Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. But neither he that planteth
is anything, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase."
They were saying, "I am of Paul, I of Apollos, I of Cephas." And he says,
"Is Christ divided?" Be ye in one, be one thing, be one person: "No man
hath ascended into heaven, but He who came down from heaven." Lo! we wish
to be thine, they said to Paul. And he said to them, I will not that ye
be Paul's, but be ye His whose is Paul together with you.
10. For He came down and died, and by that death delivered us from death:
being slain by death, He slew death. And you know, brethren, that this
death entered into the world through the devil's envy. "God made not death,"
saith the Scripture, "nor delights He in the destruction of the living;
but He created all things to be." But what saith it here? "But by the devil's
envy, death entered into the whole world." To the death offered for our
entertainment by the devil, man would not come by constraint; for the devil
had not the power of forcing, but only cunning to persuade. Hadst thou
not consented, the devil had brought in nothing: thy own consenting, O
man, led thee to death. Of the mortal are mortals born; from immortals
we are become mortals. From Adam all men are mortal; but Jesus the Son
of God, the Word of God, by which all things were made, the only Son equal
with the Father, was made mortal: "for the Word was made flesh, and dwelt
11. He endured death, then; but death He hanged on the cross, and mortal
men are delivered from death. The Lord calls to mind a great matter, which
was done in a figure with them of old: "And as Moses," saith He, "lifted
up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up;
that every one who believeth on Him may not perish, but have everlasting
life." A great mystery is here, as they who read know. Again, let them
hear, as well they who have not read as they who have forgotten what perhaps
they had heard or read. The people Israel were fallen helplessly in the
wilderness by the bite of serpents; they suffered a great calamity by many
deaths: for it was the stroke of God correcting and scourging them that
He might instruct them. In this was shown a great mystery, the figure of
a thing to come: the Lord Himself testifies in this passage, so that no
man can give another interpretation than that which the truth indicates
concerning itself. Now Moses was ordered by the Lord to make a brazen serpent,
and to raise it on a pole in the wilderness, and to admonish the people
Israel, that, when any had been bitten by a serpent, he should look to
that serpent raised up on the pole. This was done: men were bitten; they
looked and were healed. What are the biting serpents? Sins, from the mortality
of the flesh. What is the serpent lifted up? The Lord's death on the cross.
For as death came by the serpent, it was figured by the image of a serpent.
The serpent's bite was deadly, the Lord's death is life-giving. A serpent
is gazed on that the serpent may have no power. What is this? A death is
gazed on, that death may have no power. But whose death? The death of life:
if it may be said, the death of life; ay, for it may be said, but said
wonderfully. But should it not be spoken, seeing it was a thing to be done?
Shall I hesitate to utter that which the Lord has deigned to do for me?
Is not Christ the life? And yet Christ hung on the cross. Is not Christ
life? And yet Christ was dead. But in Christ's death, death died. Life
dead slew death; the fullness of life swallowed up death; death was absorbed
in the body of Christ. So also shall we say in the resurrection, when now
triumphant we shall sing, "Where, O death, is thy contest? Where, O death,
is thy sting?" Meanwhile brethren, that we may be healed from sin, let
us now gaze on Christ crucified; for "as Moses," saith He, "lifted up the
serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up; that whosoever
believeth on Him may not perish, but have everlasting life." Just as they
who looked on that serpent perished not by the serpent's bites, so they
who look in faith on Christ's death are healed from the bites of sins.
But those were healed from death to temporal life; whilst here He saith,
"that they may have everlasting life." Now there is this difference between
the figurative image and the real thing: the figure procured temporal life;
the reality, of which that was the figure, procures eternal life.